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New British Prime Minister Starmer And Challenges Ahead 

By Paul Ejime

The Labour Party’s landslide victory in the Thursday July 4 British general election could be traced to a combination of factors, including the implosion and poor performance of the Tory/Conservative Party, in power for the past 14 years.

But Labour leader and UK’s 58th Prime Minister Keir Starmer, 61, should take great credit for Labour’s transformation within five years from the abyss of a crushing defeat in 2019.

By early Friday, Labour had passed the required 326 seats for a House of Commons majority winning 412 seats overall, up by more than 200 from its showing in 2019, while the ruling Conservatives only managed 121 seats, losing 250 seats.

Liz Truss, who holds the record as the shortest-serving British Prime (seven weeks in office) is among the Tory heavyweights to have lost their seats including Secretaries/Ministers.

If doubters required further evidence that democracy or popular participation in the governance system can work, the British have shown it, with the first result of the 650 seats in contention officially declared an hour after the close of polls.

Starmer has replaced humiliated Rishi Sunak who took office in October 2022 after a lingering internal Tory turmoil that produced three Prime Ministers in three months.

The distractions were such that the Tories could not focus on governance resulting in the recall of former Prime Minister David Cameron to serve as Foreign Secretary.

On the eve of Thursday’s vote, the party was still dogged by the scandals over allegations that some of its members had been betting on the date that the Prime Minister would fix the snap election that has now swept the party from power.

Apart from Labour, the Liberal Democrats (LD) with 71 seats, four more than in 2019 and the Reform Party (REF) of Nigel Farage, one of the politicians behind Brexit, with seven seats from zero, were also beneficiaries of the disarray in the Conservative Party.

While previous Labour governments have coincided with strong Scottish support, the party also benefited from an unprecedented Scottish National Party (SNP) meltdown from 38 to nine seats.

Outgoing Prime Minister Sunak has conceded defeat and apologised, saying: “I take responsibility for the loss,” adding: “I have heard your anger,” before vacating No 10 Downing Street.

Speaking earlier, insisted that he would stay on as an MP even if he is removed or steps down as Tory leader.

“The British people have delivered a sobering verdict…,” Sunak affirmed.

On the other hand, a victorious Starmer in his first speech as Prime Minister after visiting King Charles III, promised to “to restore trust in politics and “build a government of service.”

“We did it… change begins today,” he said in his victory statement.

“… now we can look forward, walk into the morning, the sunlight of hope, pale at first but getting stronger through the day, shining once again, on a country with the opportunity after 14 years to get its future back,” Starmer vowed.

Yet, Labour also had its setbacks in Thursday’s vote, with the party’s expelled former leader Jeremy Corbyn, winning his seat as an independent, and Shadow cabinet members Jonathan Ashworth and Thangam Debbonaire losing their seats.

But who is Keir Starmer?

Starmer is a human rights lawyer who took a knee during the Black Lives Matter campaigns and once called for the British monarchy to be abolished, but years later, knelt before Charles, then Prince of Wales, to be knighted.

Described as a social-liberal and fiscal moderate, he becomes the first Labour leader to win a British general election in nearly 20 years, since Tony Blair in 2005. Labour has been in the opposition much more than in power over the past century in Britain.

But after the Conservative Party’s 14-year rule, largely characterised from Brexit fallouts to Boris Johnson, and the economic instability of his successor Liz Truss, Starmer looks set to profit from the cumulative Tory flaws.

In his legal career, Starmer switched from a human rights lawyer for 20 years, to the director of public prosecutions for England and Wales for five years, in what his critics called “changing from defending people accused of being criminals, to prosecuting them.”

According to his biographer, Starmer was teased as a youngster over his strange first name, Keir, which means dark or brooding in Gaelic and Irish.

His parents were “proper old-fashioned socialists” who may have named their son after Keir Hardie, a 19th-century Scottish trade unionist, who founded the Labour Party in 1900.

When riots broke out in London in 2011, Starmer revised the rules to fast-track prosecutions, arguing that speedier trials were a more effective crime deterrent, than long prison sentences. He was knighted in 2014 for his criminal justice work, becoming Sir Keir.

Starmer was elected to the UK parliament in 2015 and became a Labour party leader in 2020.

Five years after addressing the Labour conference for the first time as party leader in September 2021, in Brighton, he was chosen as Labour leader to succeed Corbyn, who had been one of his mentors.

Considered “dull and boring” by some critics, Starmer, was swift in suspending Corbyn from the Labour Party, following accusations of antisemitism, while Corbyn remains in Parliament as an independent.

One of the new prime minister’s challenges would be the management of high expectations of change after inheriting a country challenged by years of austerity measures, and near-empty coffers.

In Rachel Reeves, a former Bank of England economist, Starmer has a Labour MP tapped to become the UK’s first female Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is expected to help stabilise the economy.

The National Hospital Service (NHS) looms large with an estimated 7.6 million people on waiting lists for hospital treatment in England; 3% of Britons registered for a food bank, while household bills and mortgage repayments are rising.

Starmer has to redeem his campaign promises to restore competency to government, nationalise some railways and utility companies, raise the minimum wage, tax private school tuition, improve the public health system and offer free breakfast in public elementary schools.

Crime rates are reportedly on the decline, however, the same cannot be said of the justice system, with cuts to legal aid over the past decade threatening case timeliness, while temporary closures during COVID-19 have saddled Crown courts with backlogs of cases.

Immigration and border security is another hot topic, especially the Tory government’s struggles to bring down the inflows through the controversial “stop the boats” and deportation to Rwanda plan, which the Labour Party has not fully embraced.

Starmer’s election could also pit Britain against Europe, with growing worries over the far-right insurgency, particularly in France.

Among his campaign promises is to reset relations with the EU and reduce post-Brexit trade barriers. Implementation will be closely watched.

Similarly, while Starmer acknowledges that there is “no magic wand” for a quick fix, his diplomatic and international relations skills will be tested by the Russia-Ukraine war and the Israel-Hamas conflict, among others.

With an estimated population of 68 million, the UK’s 650-member Parliament, comprises 543 seats in England, 57 in Scotland, 32 in Wales and 18 in Northern Ireland.

A record 4,515 candidates contested in the polls this year with over 46 million registered voters of over 18, and either a British, Irish or qualifying Commonwealth citizen, resident in the UK or registered as an overseas voter – casting their ballots in over 40,000 polling stations.

In the December 2019 elections, Boris Johnson’s Conservatives swept to victory with 365 seats. Labour got 202 then, the SNP 48, and the LD 11.

Ejime is an Author, Global Affairs Analyst, and Consultant on Peace & Security and Governance Communications



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